I (Ken) was away this week, to give a talk at the 55th Congress of the Brazilian Genetics Society. The meeting was held in a relatively isolated hot-spring resort town, Aguas de Lindoia, north of Sao Paulo (the picture is of capybara, the world's largest rodent, in a lake near the meeting place). Around 2500 people were there, representing the wide array of genetics research, from ecology to experimental to biomedical.
Most of the attendees by far were young, enthusiastic students. Their posters and presentations (those I could understand through my lack of Portuguese) were first-rate, and shows a high degree of development of genetics research in this huge and burgeoning country. Several outsiders, like me, were privileged to be invited to talk to those attending.
The purpose of this brief post is just to pay a tribute to these achievements. With its huge resources for studying both the academic and practical sides of ecology, ecological change, and human impact, Brazil is a fascinating place that will be important in applied, evolutionary, and population ecological genetics. My guess is that the Brazilians, naturally friendly and open people, will continue to be receptive to potential collaborators who have good ideas. But they will be full collaborators, not just investigators in need of outside expertise or resources.
This meeting, like so many, was themed to honor the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. My only issue with this, and one I raised in my own presentation, is that the focus on Darwin and 1859 is somewhat misplaced and unfair. The reason is that it denies credit to Alfred Russel Wallace who, with Darwin but in the year before (1858), independently developed a theory of evolution. Wallace's was somewhat different from Darwin's, focusing more on group or species competition with the environment rather than among individuals, and Wallace's were somewhat more accurate relative to current knowledge in some other respects than Darwin.
Also, 1858 was the year in which Rudolf Virchow published his cell theory, that all life is cellular and all cells descend from other cells. That is an understanding upon which modern biology (evolutionary as well as functional) is entirely based.
So perhaps we missed doing our proper duty, and should have been celebrating last year. Wallace and Virchow might have gotten more notice, but of course, Darwin would still have been at the heart of the festivities!